What Congresscritter Can Say ‘No’ to Network Neutrality?

Tuesday morning the Senate Commerce Committee takes up the issue of net neutrality, which I believe is the most important issue on the nation’s telecomm agenda this year. As Ben Scott, Policy Director for Free Press, pointed out on this week’s radioshow, Congresscritters aren’t weighing in definitively yet on the issue, and the devil will be in the details.

Network neutrality is kind of like defense and “family values,” no politician wants to be seen as against either thing, and I doubt that any elected official wants to say that she supports Verizon restricting your internet.

So the game to watch tomorrow is to see how Kyle McSlarrow of the National Cable & Telecomm Association and Walter McCormick of the US Telecomm Assoc. try and speak out of both sides of their mouth: voicing support for network neutrality, while advocating for the right to creatively restrict customers’ internet access.

I agree with Ben’s take: the telecomm and cable providers will probably make the argument that they’re so in favor of network neutrality that regulation is unnecessary — we should just trust them. Of course, I trust them about as far as I can throw 120 miles of dark fiber.

It should be an interesting hearing, and I am pleasantly suprised to see some very articulately outspoken defenders of the public interest on the agenda, including Larry Lessig and Vint Cerf. Although, they are a bit outnumbered.

Another interesting entrant to the panel is Earl Comstock, CEO of CompTel, which lobbies on behalf of the big Bells’ competitors. Comstock used to be a close adviser to Commerce Committee Chair Ted Stevens, who considered Comstock for an empty FCC seat. Instead Comstock’s colleague at CompTel, Robert McDowell, has been chosen by Stevens and the White House.

I doubt I’ll have time to watch the hearing live tomorrow, but I’ll try to keep up with the reportage. I’m currently planning on doing a thorough roundup on the hearing on this upcoming Friday’s radioshow.







One response to “What Congresscritter Can Say ‘No’ to Network Neutrality?”

  1. George Avatar

    This poses an interesting challenge for anarchists.

    Networks aren’t natural phenomena. They are created and maintained by man. Thus, one has to decide who you trust: Companies or governments. In either case, there are potential problems.

    You trust a company, and there is potential for abuse. The company can over-charge or take advantage of users. The way this can be controlled is by taking the company to court or through competition.

    You trust the government, and there is also potential for abuse. But the abuse the government does could be invasion of one’s privacy. You can’t take the government to court, and there is no competition with government.

    So who do you trust?

    One big issue in networking today is investment in infrastucture. Free Press advocates community internet. The one small downside that they gloss over is the huge cost. It’s extremely inefficient for individual towns to set up their own systems. It’s much cheaper when towns combine resources in regional or state systems. But then bureaucracy is required to run and maintain the system once up, and often governments subcontract to outside companies for expertise and specialization. So you have governments doing business with companies. Which means the worst of both worlds. When governments subcontract to private companies, there is opportunity for corruption. Not a pretty picture.

    So you wonder why Congress is treading carefully in this issue? Certainly, the federal government has no money for the infrastructure. Too much being spent in Iraq. So they’d rather turn it over to private companies. Which brings us back to who do you trust.

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